Back to Poetry - David R. Slavitt
Canzone of Guido Cavalcanti translated by David R. Slavitt
I had not supposed that my heart could sustain
such pangs, such pains and tears torn from within
my soul so that my face, a death’s-head grin
would alarm even the casual passer-by.
Thus I languished under Love’s discipline
once I had found my lady, and he made plain
that I could not survive, my body and brain
not strong enough to resist her or even to try.
I lost whatever I had of vital force
and with it my heart was gone,
beseiged as it had been without remorse,
while with her eyes she struck with deadly aim
at my guards who, one by one,
fell or fled, routed beyond all shame.
She is far beyond description, being
ethereally adorned. With intellect
rather than the senses one might inspect
the beauty she brings us from another sphere.
Noble and full of grace, she can project
beyond the eyes’ capacities for seeing
a splendor as captivating as it is freeing
wherever it is that she may deign to appear.
Still it was through my human eyes that I
was stricken, and now whoever
sees me turns to her and asks her why
she does not show me pity’s tenderness
although my lady never
seems to have taken note
of my distress.
The thought crosses my mind that I should try
to speak to her, expressing my fervent praise
for her nobility, but as I gaze
at her I am dumbstruck and cannot say
a single word let alone blurt out a phrase.
For this Love mocks me, amused to see that I
am able when she approaches only to sigh,
and enjoys my hopelessness and my dismay.
“The arrow from her smile,” he said, “has hit
into your heart’s core,
and neither by your courage, strength, or wit
can you contrive any defense or cure.
You’ve seen her and therefore
your painful death is imminent and sure.”
O song, you know that when I beheld her face
I copied you out from Love’s great folios
where poetry that I have admired shows
how to speak to a lady and by what art
one may with some persuasiveness disclose
his feelings and argue his hopeless case.
You may appeal with dignity and grace
for pity for the deep wound in my heart.
My scattered spirits quailed at this great task
and neither could tell her how
she had transformed my life nor venture to ask
for pity as I languish and decay.
Therefore go to her now
on behalf of one who is about to pass away.